I made it home to see her before she died. She acted as though she had been waiting for me. She opened her eyes, held out her arms, covered my cheek with kisses and told me she loved me. I slept with her that night and the two nights that followed before I had to return to the Northwest. I heard one more "I love you" from her and listened to her answer "yes" when asked if she was glad I was there. Others in the family were a little envious of the response I received. Everyone I've talked to has said how pleased I must be that I was able to have that time with her before she slipped away. I don't really know if I am. It was hard. I have images in my mind that can't be erased. One that keeps haunting me happened the morning she slipped into an unresponsive state. Her eyes were open and had found me. She followed me as I walked around her bed and when I stood over her, her eyes drank me in. She couldn't talk at this point but it was like she was memorizing me...telling herself to remember every part of my face. There was a softness about her, a gentle smile, a peace. And then she closed her eyes. This should be a gift I cherish but every time I think about it, I want to cry. My heart hurts. I ache for what I'm missing.
My grandma has been a constant in my life. She was there to greet me as a newborn, attended all of my choir and band concerts, cheered for me at all my sporting events, baked all my birthday cakes, hosted my parties at her home, listened to me complain about my parents, surprised me with I-love-you-gifts at unexpected times, loaned me money when I moved away, called just to hear my voice and always acted like I was the most special, extraordinary grandchild she had. There were 10 of us, not counting the greats and great-greats. She made us all feel that way. She was my fiercest protector and biggest cheerleader. In my grandma's eyes, I was just about perfect.
I am at a loss now. Who do I call in the middle of the day when I need to hear a familiar voice? Who is interested in hearing mundane details of my life? Who sits by the phone waiting for me? I don't know how many times I've dialed her number in the past month only to realize she wouldn't be answering. Life is about many things. It is complex. There is so much to love about it. There is so much to learn. I am learning now how to let go. How to be thankful for what I had, how to cherish it, but how to release it so I can move forward. It is not easy. I am not ready to completely open my hands and surrender. I need to keep a little bit. The time will come -- it's just not here yet. And that's okay.
So, this morning, as I think about life and loss and missing, I am reminded of what a gift my grandma was to me. I am her granddaughter. I carry her with me. May my life honor her always.
I love you Gram.